David Heath, who became the first Liberal Democrat to be made Minister for Agriculture in almost 100 years in September’s Government reshuffle, told the Yorkshire Post that rural areas can make a “big contribution” to the UK’s economic recovery if they are given the tools to grow.
Mr Heath said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has two key roles to play in supporting the countryside economy – driving the roll-out of key infrastructure such as superfast broadband and improved mobile phone coverage; and giving targeted support to businesses looking to expand.
To that end, he will today announce a grant of almost £500,000 to help the family-run Harrogate egg firm Chippindale Foods move to new £3m premises as it seeks to open up export markets for the eggs it buys from 28 different Yorkshire farmers.
Mr Heath will also cut the ribbon on Nestle’s new £7m research centre in York.
“These are two examples of exactly the sort of investment we need to see in bringing facilities up to date and making our industries more effective,” the Minister said.
“The aspiration shown by these businesses is exactly what will get Britain on the rise again, growing our economy, creating jobs and competing in the global race.
“Yorkshire is a great place to do business and home to some really enterprising people. I want to do all I can to make it easier for them to thrive.”
His visit to the region follows a trade mission to China by his boss, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, last week. Mr Heath said both trips were indicative of David Cameron’s determination to “make every department an economic department”.
“It’s key to what we’re trying to achieve in this department,” he said.
“One of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is that when we talk about economic development, we are talking about all regions and all parts of the country.
“Particularly both the rural areas – which we think not only need not be left behind, but actually can make a big contribution – but also the food industry, which is one of our key industries in this country. There is a huge potential for growth.”
The Government is desperate to boost exports and sees the food industry as having a key role to play, owing to the strong reputation enjoyed by British produce in developing countries.
“One of the things some of our competitors do very effectively is to engage with fast developing markets overseas,” Mr Heath said.
“We want to make sure Britain is very much in that race. We are very good at producing high quality food in this country and we have a lot of assets.
“What we need to do is sell that effectively to countries around the world.”
The funding is coming from Defra’s £100m Rural Development Programme for England.
“Sometimes a relatively small contribution from us can lever in a lot of private money from outside, which can make a huge difference to the ability of a company to grow,” Mr Heath said. “That’s exactly what we’re seeing in the case of Chippindale’s.”